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Mar 21, 2008 09:40 PM

College student visiting London

Well, I know that this is probably one of the worst times to plan a vacation to London, and even worse being that I have the budget of a college student. I was wondering if anyone had any suggestions as to any good, cheap eats...i'll let you decide which adjective to use.
Plus, any suggestions as to any good eats near touristy places (museums and such)? The trip is going to be in mid-May, if that changes any suggestions...
Thanks in advance

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  1. You could do worse than checking out the board for posts by JFores. JF is an American currently studying in London and has a good grasp of cheap places - although I suspect even he will struggle to find really cheap eats round the touristy venues.

    I'm sure that you've already worked out that our capital is one of the most expensive places in the world to visit - even for us Brits who live elsewhere in the country.

    Good relatively cheap food is there to be had though.

    1. You're going to have to box clever for sure but we'll try and get you back Stateside without your having to take out another college loan :-)

      Please can you give us a little more to work with - what types of cuisine are you into and what is your maximum spend per meal (with and without alcohol)? Also will you just be doing classic museum/landmark tourism or are you looking to stroll around different hoods and get a feel for the city that way? Oh and if you can mention a couple of your Manhattan faves, that will be helpful too.

      2 Replies
      1. re: oonth

        Just wondered how you knew this person is from Manhattan?

        1. re: zuriga1

          Never mind, oonth - answered my own question!

      2. Also, if this is your first trip to the UK, when you're working out total meal costs, bear in mind that our tax is already included in the menu price.

        Many restaurants will add a service charge (I think Americans call this an auto-gratuity) at around 12.5%. It'll be clearly shown on the menu and the bill if they do. No further tip is required. If it isnt shown, then a tip is usual - 10% will be absolutely fine.


        1. greetings wherethetreefalls, we just got back from London. One place where we had a huge lunch with enough to take-away leftover was Maoz, a falafel specialist cafe on Old Compton St. in Soho. Not especially near museums but not far from the National Gallery to its south toward the river, or the British Museum minutes to the east and a little north. There are numerous extraordinary bookshops (new, discount, used, antiquarian) within minutes of the intersection of Charing Cross and Old Compton.

          For a bit under 5 GBP you get a full size pita w. fresh made to order falafels, plus excellent fresh made chips(remember what yanks call chips are called crisps in the UK, chips=frites) plus a drink which you can take in the form of a freshly squeezed orange juice (value in the U.S. about $2+ in a comparable cafe for just the juice). The deal is in the all-you-want salad bar, a big variety of immaculately fresh stuff inc. tabbouleh, marinated carrots and cauliflower, fresh salsas better than what most U.S. tacquerias offer, very good olives and so on. If you eat there, you stuff the salad fixins into the top of the pita, graze, go back and stuff more and continue.

          Of course if you look at it as a $10. falafel pita, it doesn't appear cheap. For perspective, I separate the cost (dollars with half the worth of pounds) versus value, and value is more reasonably assessed if you bear in mind London's rank in expensive metropoli, and the devaluation of our dollars a form of combined overconsumption and war taxes causing huge deficits/debts which weaken the dollar. So I'd look at a 5 GBP item more like $7-8. rather than 10, and consider, would that product be a good value in the U.S. at x?

          Drinking in pubs puts it in perspective--the chain type pubs will advertise 2 GBP for a Guiness (18 oz). At $4 not a big bargain, but $3 is happy-hour 'cheap'. We only drank the native real ales in pubs, which are drawn by hand pumps from cask, not pressurized kegs and have no foam 'head' as a consequence. 18 oz. of that quality of beverage can't compare to the $2. drafts back in the states. Most Samuel Smith pubs--and this brewery has bought and preserved several lovely, historic pub venues--sell pints of the house ales for under 2 GBP, and those are at the low end (a somewhat bland product in the range of ales you'll find, but far from its native habitat so allowances should be made). The pubs in fancier parts of town will get 3 GBP for a pint, and most places are between those extremes--this for a product not at all available in its fresh form in the states. Sorry if you don't imbibe.

          For a very wide variety of reasonably priced, hot, ethnic foods, go into the city for the Sunday markets at Spitalfields and the old Truman Brewery immediately adjacent. Many options incl. good Ethiopian and Caribbean. If you follow Brick Lane northward from there, there's an abundance of 'curry dives', none of which I've tried but not expensive from what I've heard, street vendors of used clothing and CDs and such, then two bagel (spelled beigel in London) shops within a block of each other.The one furthest north is called the Brick Lane Beigel Bake and is famous for *the* cheap salt beef ('corned' beef) sandwich (on a fresh beigel of course) of London. Hot mustard costs a few pence extra, the meat is of decent quality and generously portioned. The plain beigels are better than most you'll find in the states from any of the chains and go for 20 pence. This is a vestige of old East End London from what I understand, so I enjoyed the little extra excursion after the markets down the street. A classic local pub, Pride of Spitalfields, is open on Sundays (many pubs in the City of London aren't) just steps off of Brick Lane.

          If you wish to splurge on a more serious meal, check the promos on the Top Table online reservation website--we enjoyed an very good three-course prix fixe in a fairly luxurious place, Moti Mahal, for half price, 15 GBP rather than 30, for food you'd be pleased to get for the $30. (tax incl. as you've been advised) in the U.S. As a city steeped in commerce and completely immersed in the cyberage, London is perfect for you to research details and reviews of many eating and drinking establishment via the internet. Enjoy.

          5 Replies
          1. re: moto

            lol I'm not from manhatten...i dunno where you guys got that from (maybe my posts????) but I'm pretty open to anything
            I would like to try some 'classic' english grub (or as classic as it will get)
            definately will want to get my fill of fish n chips while i'm there
            I guess my budget would be about $60 per day at most (for food) hopefully it'll boil down to about $40, but I know that even with this budget its very, very ideal
            I personally dont drink, but I know that my friends might have a pint
            harters: you definately answered the tipping/service charge questions thats been bugging me
            moto: thanks for the suggestions
            I'm planning on hitting up the Tate and Tate modern, probably a performance or two, and some of the markets...except for that, I dont have much yet

            1. re: wherethetreefalls

              You can get by on £20 ($40) a day. You could opt for a sandwich at lunch and then, say, a pub meal for dinner. Another option worth considering is having your main meal at lunch - restaurants often have "lunch specials" that might get you two or three courses for a much more reasonable price than in the evening. Try to stick to the $40 most days so that on others you can splurge more.

              "Classic" traditional Brit food can be a bit of an anachronism for us these days and you are more likely to find it in touristy (therefore expensive) places.

              Don't even think of having fish and chips in a pub - it is our original takeaway food. Best bought from a chippy and eaten straight from the paper walking home - but you'll find recs on the board for places that also have a cafe where you can eat.

              Sorry that I have no actual recs for you - I don't live in London and rarely visit. I do have great empathy with you in your search to stay on budget - the sterling/euro exchange rate has taken a big dive recently and it makes our trips to Europe expensive.


              1. re: wherethetreefalls

                My apologies for suggesting that you are from Manhattan, I got misled by your posting history.

                Here are some thoughts for value eating in London, not really tailored to sightseeing though:

                * Grilled chicken sandwiches of the ethnic variety should become your friend. You've got the chicken tikka roll at Tayyabs for £3.25, there's another Pakistani takeout place called Salwa on Crawford St (off Edgware Road) which also sells them (haven't been for a while so not sure on current price or quality) and you've got the Lebanese equivalent at numerous places including the Noura group ( and Cafe du Liban on Edgware Road, should set you back around £4-5 with chips.

                * Cheap Japanese. Atari Ya cafe on James St does good quality cheap (under £10) plates of sushi and sashimi, it also does some cooked items I think. My favourite sushi bar in London is called Tomoe, 62 Marylebone Lane, if you go there at lunchtime, you can get quite a few £10 specials, it's very good quality and impressive value for money. Not far away on Wells Street is an izakaya called Soho Japan, they also do quite a few very worthwhile lunches in the £5-8 price range (

                * Cheap and tasty lunch/breakfast. If you decide to do some neighbourhood wandering in the North London suburbs (the canals between Camden and Primrose Hills, the parks of Primrose Hill and Hampstead Heath, the "villages" in Primrose Hill, Belsize Park and Hampstead, you could grab either a crepe from the creperie on Hampstead High Street or a nice English breakfast from Cafe Bianca on Perrins Court, both under a fiver and tasty fare. More centrally, there's a place called Avellas Cafe on Mortimer Street, they used to do very good (and large) sausage and bacon rolls for around £3.50.

                * Tate Modern/St Pauls. I used to work near there, actually some pretty good options nearby. Birleys in Paternoster Sq does good grilled sandwiches at around the £5 mark, I used to like the chicken/mushroom and mozzarella/sunblush tomato options, they also have good daily specials from time to time. Ribon on Holborn Viaduct is a very impressive sushi/Japanese place catering largely for Japanese ex pats, daily lunch specials although probabaly slightly above the £10 mark. A bit further away you have a classic cafe called Beppes where they do jumbo sandwiches, made with affection, for under a fiver.

                * Camden Market/Lock Market/Stables Market. Again North London. Lots of eating stalls in these markets, not sure as to quality. There's a place called Sumsushi further up the hill between Chalk Farm and Belsize where you can get decent noodles and sushi rolls for normal prices, mainly takeout though (

                Most of these are lunchtime suggestions and that's going to be your best bet for value eating. I'll let you know if more ideas come to mind.

                And I endorse any and all of the JFores recs even though I haven't tried all of the places he mentions.

                1. re: wherethetreefalls

                  It might be worth your while seeking out a proper greasy spoon cafe; you get both "cheap" and "very English" that way. Make sure to go somewhere that does black pudding, and don't forget to have a mug of ridiculously strong tea with five sugars in it, and peruse the complimentary copy of the Sun or Mirror while you're there. OK, I exaggerate slightly there, but it's as much about the ambience/culture as it is about the food, though be aware that the quality of the food varies a _lot_, and it's the kind of thing you either love or hate.

                  A map of possibilities is here — — though note that those aren't all recommendations; read the entries themselves to see. is also a must-read.

                  1. re: Kake

                    Some good breakfast cafe reviews - and one of my favourite food blogs


              2. I just got in from an enormous Bengali wedding (day 2 of 3. So full.) and I'm in the States so I'll be brief with this. If you're doing the British Museum, then make sure to eat at either the Indian YMCA for lunch. It's very cheap and they do a solid fish curry. If you miss their lunch time then go down the block (near Natraj and that little strip of restaurants) to Italia Uno which is an excellent Italian sandwich shop that I live in. Yes, I basically live there. The bondola with artichokes is my favorite and they have porchetta atm, but it's not on the menu. Both will get you lunch for under 5 quid. If you want to see some of the more interesting parts of the city I think you might enjoy a trip to Brixton Market or Green St market. Though a bit far out, there's some really good cheap food near both. Green St Market is like a trip to Sylhet in Bangladesh and Brixton is like a trip to Jamaica (and West Africa and a few other places.) Definitely try one tourist market (ei. Camden or Portobello or Brick Lane) and one real market (Brixton or Green St) while you're in town. It's worth it. If you hit Green St market eat down the road at Baburchi or Thrill of the Grill across the street. The former is basically dinner for 7 quid a person, but if you want their Bengali specialties you have to show them what you want in the case or call ahead, otherwise they won't add it to the buffet (you're forced into the buffet now.) If you're near Brick Lane (and you will be) then Beigel Bake is an outrageously cheap and delicious way to fill up. Their bagels with herring or salt beef are awesome; rivaling all but the best NY bagels (their herring bagel is one of the things I miss from London food wise.) If you do the Imperial War Museum then travel over a bit more into Elephant and Castle or Southwark for very reasonably priced Colombian food. Check for previous posts on this. I cook basically every day so I can't be that much more of a help, but I'll keep thinking.